71 Cooking, the Books

“Hans?” said Mrs. James. “Now that I have you in the car, I have to ask you something.” They were on their way downtown, as arranged.

“Nothing too serious, I hope.”

“It’s really about your friend, Peter.” Fear now Jack-Frosted icy fractals across his mind. “I wanted to know…” she interrupted herself to watch the traffic change at a busy intersection, extending his apprehension, “…if he’s still interested in helping us on the cookbook.”Chapter 71 Cooking, the Books

Hans let out a sigh; overlong, but the best he could do to hide his relief. “I don’t think you can count on him any more – that is…”

“So we needn’t include his contribution?”

“Let me guess,” Hans loosened his tongue, just a little. “Banana bread?”

“That’s the one.”

“Don’t bother. It wasn’t that great anyway, and had a lot of expensive, health-foodie ingredients.” That he’d had to pay for.

“I had noticed that and, with his permission, was going to suggest including some substitutions.” She wondered if Peter himself had been substituted but wouldn’t ask, of course. “Was there something else you’d like to swap in? It’d be good to include you, as you are a board member. I guess you’ve seen the flyer. Gertie Steinhardt is reviving the project for us as a morale and public relations booster. We’ll be recruiting additional volunteers. More promising, with her energy involved.”

“I did see it. You don’t mind having your ‘pet’ project usurped?”

“Not at all! It had become quite a chore and with me the house nag! At last we can have some fun with it. Her notion is to include pictures and memories of pets we know, or knew, and love. Everybody can relate to that in some way or other. You strike me as a cat person, Hans. Mullins approved of you.”

“Mullins is cool. I grew up with a string of cats, but…” again he stopped, just in time. He’d been going to say Peter didn’t like cats; too much competition, probably. “Maybe someday.”

“Of course. There’ll be one waiting for you, when you’re ready.” They were snarled up in a construction zone, watching the oncoming traffic. They wouldn’t be late, yet. “Do you like to cook?”

“Not much of a cook. Always thought it might be fun to learn but Peter…” It slipped out into this unguarded moment. She scooped him up.

“If you can’t think of some familiar family dish, maybe we could attribute one of mine to you.” All she’d ever seen him ingest was plain tea and the coffee from down the hill. “How to properly brew tea, for example.” She tried to ease his way out of obvious discomfort, observing that he could now certainly use a bracing cup. “A mostly unknown recipe here, and worth including.”

“I prefer to read cookbooks than to work the recipes,” Hans thought of something to say. “Most recipes are so poorly explained. I find myself doing re-writes,” he continued, wishing he might re-write a few recent conversations.

“There’s our answer, then. I’ll put you to editing as your contribution, if you will, that is. Why didn’t I think of your abilities before?” How was it that she seemed always to go right where it hurt the most, and make it better?

“I can do that, if you give me some guidelines.”

“I’m inclined to agree with you, about recipes being poorly written. I think that most cooks develop ways of doing things and then adapt recipes to their own methods and tastes. It’s very seldom that I follow a recipe to the letter. Burnt too many times, you should pardon the expression! I read through first to try and grasp what is meant to be done, and with what. I always, and I mean always, make sure I have all the ingredients, or what I intend to swap in, before I begin. I usually stop and write out what I end up doing as I’m going along, so I don’t have to go through it all over again, if there is a next time.”

“That sounds even worse than I expected from just reading them. Why is it that way?” The cars in their lane crept forward.

“Now here’s a good example.” A rear bumper sticker just in front of them advised, “Love People. Cook Them. Tasty Food.” A blob of mud supplied the second period.

“The importance of punctuation.”

“As we have daily proof. But cookbooks do sell, don’t they? Maybe people like to look at the food art and neglect the basics. Though the compilers claim to kitchen test everything, I wonder if it isn’t just about differing standards and availability of equipment.”

“What happens if you make something with another pot, for example? Does it really make that much difference?”

“It certainly does with baking, a whole other kettle of fish. Sorry, if we digress into food play on words, we’d never be done. If you don’t think it through first, you can end up using so many more utensils and bowls than are actually needed. You end up with a bigger mess, over more counter space, so more clean-up, too.”

“I don’t know very well what ingredients go with other ingredients but I do notice that there are many ways of grouping them. In a list at the beginning, in the body of the directions, highlighted, or not. That’s confusing.”

“That’s less of a problem for me, when I review it all from the top. Some recipes are easier to read one way, some the other. It depends on how you have to measure and mix.” Out of the construction and nearing their destination, Mrs. James was scanning for street parking. “Keep your eyes open for a spot.”

Construction zones contribute to the challenges of street parking near condo buildings.

Construction zones contribute to the challenges of street parking near condo buildings.

“Those measure and mix directions are the worst part, from an “how to do this” point of view. Every one of those writers must have been out sick the day their schools were teaching explanatory writing.”

“It’s like that with older knitting and crochet instructions, too. No specifics, nothing to compare. Much easier, now. You can even follow a diagram. Still need to know the basics of how to do it, though.”

“Directions – A Reader’s Guide.”

“Cooking, baking, knitting, reading, life…”

“A guide book for life has been tried. Many tries. By the time each one is written, each author believes so implicitly in the truth just revealed that no other truth can be possible.”

“The writing makes it so?”

“You seem to have found a way around it with recipes, at least. Let’s decide on our own standards. We can aim for some consistency even if I don’t know what I’m writing about.”

“No, you won’t have to test. I’ve others in mind for that step. Ah, this spot looks open.”

“And the artwork, who’s on tap for that?”

“We’ve nobody so far. Here we are.”

Minutes later, Hans and Mrs. James joined Earnest Arbuthnot in the waiting room of the offices of Horton, Hearst, and Hough. Though on time, they waited, each lost in thought, the glossy magazine each was nonchalantly paging through an advertisement saturated blur. The firm’s signature jingle was, mercifully, not echoing through the office. It had successfully completed its task of enticing those unfortunate enough to require legal services and, inside these walls at least, was laid to its clamorous rest; ‘Hough rhymes with who’ doggerel need no longer occupy the mind of a fully materialized client.